Reigniting theatrical interest in Jaffna’s younger generations

Saturday, 23 August 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Thulasi Muttulingam An eight day festival of drama and theatre, specifically targeting children (but also catering to adults), recently came to an end in Jaffna. Timed to coincide with the Nallur Festival currently ongoing, when people are in a relaxed, entertainment seeking mood as they wend their way along the roads leading out of  the temple after their evening prayers, the festival occurred in a by-lane adjoining the temple precincts from 12-20 August. The Nallur area right now turns into a colourful display of temporary shops and snack vendors as evening sets in. The famous annual temple festival will be in effect till 26 August so the fairly quiet streets and roads leading to the temple transform into busy hives of laughing, colourfully decked out people, in an appropriately festive mood as they make their way to and fro from their worship. Thus these series of plays were strategically timed to get a captive audience seeking entertainment; with the magic word ‘Free!’ “We are seeking to revive theatre interest, especially in the younger generations, who know TV and its drama serials but not active live performances like these,” says T. Thevananth, founder of the Active Theatre Movement, the main organiser behind this venture. And so the eight day theatre festival (from 12-20 August), while having colourful productions of traditional performances and contextual parodies, also placed a special emphasis on staging children’s plays, scripted by Jaffna’s famous veteran playwright Kulandhai Shanmugalingam. Shanmugalingam’s plays are known for their insight, depth and wittiness, but while a master of all genres, he is especially known for his children’s plays. They plays chosen were quite entertaining and engaged even the adults’ attention, but the children were especially enchanted. Being interactive sessions, where the actors asked the children for their advice and help, all the young ones in the audience were actively drawn in – and well inoculated with an active appreciation for live theatre. “We once had an active theatre movement going here – but now it is almost an abandoned art form in the north,” says T. Thevananth. “There are various reasons for this, but the main limiting factor right now is the economic constraints faced by the people. They are either worried about money or too busy working to earn that money. Few people here have the time or inclination to buy tickets to attend theatre performances here.” He founded the Active Theatre Movement 12 years ago, and has a dedicated team of volunteers who are keen to act and to take theatre to the masses, but it’s a steady slog. “We didn’t have any sponsors for this. Jaffna does not have that system of funding the Arts – and if we were to approach an NGO, it would have required writing extensive project proposals for which we didn’t have the time – so we didn’t go that route either. “We are just hoping that if we drum up enough interest in the local population, they will eventually pick up the habit of paying to see us perform. Part of that is ensuring that the next generation (the children) are roped in as well,” says Thevananth. Well, the simple open air theatre by Nallur Cross Road, which was their venue, was packed with all seats full for most of the festival. Perhaps hope is in sight yet for an active theatre revival in Jaffna.